Will your retail brand travel well? Key considerations if you believe the UK is the next stop on your global itinerary for growth

By retail and brand specialist, Jackie Naghten.

There is no doubt that the UK, as the perennial ‘nation of shopkeepers’, is a tempting destination for an ambitious brand planning global expansion. But while some have flourished (Zara, H&M and TK Maxx to name a few) many have floundered (Banana Republic, Forever 21 and American Apparel imminently packing its bags) and some have stuttered and re-launched (Uniqlo). Here are a few key considerations before taking that giant leap:

  1. Brand: any retailer considering coming to the UK must believe they have built a strong brand, which will travel. They should already be enjoying considerable success in their country of origin with a popular consumer base. The management must have a good handle on their customer’s relationship with the brand and its values. There must be elements in their range and offer that are potentially new, different and motivating and it is this element, which should underpin their international expansion plans for the brand.
  1. Product: good goods sell at the right price. Nothing supercedes the product offer, not the stores, the marketing or the service. If the product/value is not appealing to your target UK customers it’s not really worth turning on the lights in your store. Engage your product team in the process leading up to any launch to take account of local market traits. Do not assume that your local bestsellers will travel. Cultural vagaries are hugely important in this regard. For example local attitudes to casual dressing at work and when going out may impact your range offer. Do you have specific category killers or iconic items in your local market which could support your UK launch and which will spearhead differentiation?
  1. Customer: who is your target customer here in the UK and where are they shopping now. What is going to tempt them to visit your store to check out your offer? This is where some serious research is required via focus groups and the like. The UK consumer is a sophisticated animal who has enjoyed a wide choice of brands in recent years. At the sharp end of this are younger consumers who are tech savvy, always looking for the latest trend and smart at spotting the best value and latest trends via social media. This has led to the meteoric success of on-line fashion brands missguided and prettylittlething in recent years. They didn’t exist 5 years ago. You need to be very clear about your offering and to research how you are going to match up against the existing High Street offer and on-line offers. For example here in the UK there is now some resistance to heavy branding in the youth market, so you need to be asking yourselves is our product branding subtle enough to appeal to these consumers?
  1. Value: the discounters and the availability of comparative websites mean that these days the UK consumer knows exactly where to go to get the best value for their retail £. Your price architecture x brand offer must be spot on. What are the sweet spot price points across your categories? The importance of price cannot be over emphasized. Gilly Hicks (underwear cousin of Abercrombie & Fitch) failed despite their sexy shop-fits and alluring brand. They were simply too expensive for a ‘me too’ brand despite being located within high end malls alongside premium brands. Even well heeled consumers appreciate the right values and bang for their buck.
  1. Due diligence: to take account of these key aspects of any new brand launch in the UK some significant due diligence is required. Engaging local experts, while time consuming and requiring budget, will be time and money well spent as long as you keep an open mind ready to take into account findings which do not chime with your original assumptions and forecasts.

About the author: Jackie Naghten has 20 years experience across the UK High Street, advises clients on developing strategies for growth across multi-channel, retail e-commerce and mail order.